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Sunday December 4, 2011Murphy Progressing, Gators Hoping For Return Sooner Than Later

By Chris Harry Contributing Writer

GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- Erik Murphy sprinted up the practice floor Sunday morning, urged on by his trainer and a Florida Gators assistant coach.

“Full speed!” shouted trainer Dave “Duke” Werner.

“C’mon Murph!” yelled assistant coach Matt McCall. “Finish strong!”

Murphy, the Gators sharp-shooting forward, didn’t really need the pushing or cajoling. After missing three games with a bruised right knee -- and knowing things could have been much, much worse -- the thought of returning to the court this week was motivation enough.

So full speed, he went; finish strong, he did.

“I feel good right now,” Murphy said while kicked back on the trainer’s table and his knee in an ultrasound wrap following a very ambitious, very encouraging morning workout. “I’ll be back Wednesday, that’s how good I feel.”

UF coach Billy Donovan ultimately will decide if, when and how much the 6-foot-10 Murphy will play when the No. 10 Gators (5-2) next take the court against Arizona (6-2) in another nationally televised ESPN game at the O’Connell Center. UF certainly could have used Murphy’s size and shooting ability in the loss Friday night at fourth-ranked Syracuse, but giving the junior from South Kingstown, R.I., a few more days rest was for the greater good.

“He's been cleared full-go for practice [Monday]," said Werner, the team's trainer the last eight seasons. "And, right now, the plan is for him to go [vs. Arizona].”

“I’m optimistic,” Donovan said of Murphy's status after the 72-68 loss at the Carrier Dome. “Everything he’s done so far, he’s responded.”

Murphy has not played since banging knees with teammate Cody Larson during practice Nov. 24. Though he finished practice that day and felt fine afterward, the knee ballooned several hours later when Murphy was relaxing with the team at Donovan’s home following Thanksgiving dinner.

“I couldn't help thinking the worst,” Murphy said. “I feel pretty fortunate, actually.”

After studying magnetic resonance imaging of the injury, UF’s medical staff compared notes with Murphy’s hometown doctor in Rhode Island -- and consulted with the team physician for the Boston Celtics, also -- and determined the meniscus tear the recent tests revealed was actually a five-year-old injury. Instead, Murphy suffered a knee bruise Thanksgiving Day that needed rest and rehab. He got six days of the former before beginning the latter five days ago. 

“It’s been a very aggressive rehab,” Werner said.

On Wednesday, Murphy shot stationary jump shots and on Thursday worked on moving without the ball and taking shots off the dribble at about three-quarter speed. At the shoot-around Friday in Syracuse, Murphy did his first full-court running, dressed for the game and took part in pre-game warm-ups.

There actually was some debate about whether Murphy would play against the Orange. One-sided debate, that is.

When UF power forward Patric Young picked up his second foul with nearly 12 minutes to go in the first half, the Gators were forced to go to their four-guard look, with 6-foot-3 Bradley Beal dropping to the post.

“Duke!” Murphy screamed. “Put me in!”

Wasn't going to happen.

“We’ve got like 30 games left,” Werner said.

Instead, Murphy returned to the court Saturday -- the practice court -- back in Gainesville. There was individual drills and more up-and-back conditioning work. It was more of the same Sunday in anticipation of rejoining his teammates Monday and facing the Wildcats Wednesday.

“We could have used him in the middle of that zone [vs. Syracuse], too,” McCall said Sunday. “He’s 6-10, and to be able to throw it to him, facing the basket, shooting in that area. ... He would’ve had six to eight points in that area.”

And maybe more beyond. Through four games, Murphy was averaging 10 points per game on 53.8-percent shooting from the floor and 57.1 (8 of 14) from 3-point range. His threat from the arc could have loosened up the Orange’s notoriously tough match-up zone that gave the Gators fits in their half-court sets.

“I just feel like I could have helped the team being out there,” Murphy said.

Instead, the Gators played it safe and should have his help during an upcoming stretch that features some more ambitious non-conference foes -- Arizona, Texas A&M (Dec. 17 at Sunrise), Florida State (Dec. 22), at Rutgers (Dec. 29) -- before opening Southeastern Conference play Jan. 7 at Tennessee.

“I’m just relieved it wasn’t as bad as we thought at first,” Murphy said. “Like I said, everything feels good. I’ve still got to get my wind back, but I was only out six days. It won’t take long considering the shape I already was in. I’m excited.”

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